Is this the year of the Wildcats? Will Three No. 2 seeds make it to Phoenix for the national semifinals? That's how one handicapper sees things as he reveals his free Final Four picks.
Season NCAAB Record: 51-45-4 (+1.50)
From the frying pan represented by our Sweet 16 picks and into the fire we go with the four teams that will make it to Phoenix. And just as we began the previous 16 picks, we'll start this one in the East Region where No. 1 overall seed Villanova resides.
My projections have the Wildcats first getting past Mount St. Mary's, who are 27-point underdogs at Bookmaker, then reaching the Sweet 16 with a win over Virginia Tech. In the Elite Eight, 'Nova will go up against a Florida side if my March Madness bracket is perfect, and the Wildcats win that battle in New York City.
SMU and Duke fill out the bottom half of the East Region bracket, and perhaps it's just a case of going against the consensus, but I've got the Mustangs upsetting the Blue Devils. I know, the easy pick is Mike Krzyzewski's crew beating Baylor in that Elite Eight matchup to set up what would be a huge clash to make the Final Four vs. Villanova. But I'm firmly behind SMU, though unfortunately that's where the Pony Express ends as Villanova advances to Phoenix.
Strongest Favorite In Tourney Falls Short Of Final Four
There hasn't been any dramatic change to the college basketball futures odds in the past couple of days, with North Carolina still the overall favorite in the tournament and running from +550 to +600. Unfortunately for those bettors playing that chalk, it's a losing ticket.
The Tar Heels will take care of matters in the Elite Eight next week in Memphis, the top seed in the South Region denying No. 4 Butler an opportunity to advance. But that will be UNC's final dubya of this campaign. The other Elite Eight matchup in Memphis should pit No. 2 Kentucky against No. 3 UCLA, a true battle of college basketball blue-bloods that are among the second tier of tourney favorites at SBR's top sportsbooks. John Calipari and his bunch get my nod in that one, and again in the South Region Final against North Carolina.
If It Walks Like A Duck & Quacks Like A Duck ...
It's not exactly like the advantage they get playing in front of packed crowds at The Phog in Lawrence, but playing the Midwest Region's Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds at the Sprint Center in Kansas City is a close second for the Kansas Jayhawks. Bill Self's kids begin the tourney as the top seed of that region and will cruise past UC Davis and Michigan State to reach KC, where a very familiar foe, No. 5 Iowa State, awaits in the Sweet 16. The Jayhawks will pass that test and avenge a loss at Allen Fieldhouse earlier.
That's the end of the road for KU, however. My pick to emerge from the Midwest is Oregon, with the Ducks favored by 15 on the NCAA basketball odds in their tourney opener Friday against Iona in Sacramento, where the bottom half of this bracket is being played. The Ducks will next draw Creighton before getting Michigan in the Elite Eight and upsetting Kansas in the region final.
Arizona Completes Quartet In West Region
Last but not least, we arrive in the West quadrant of the March Madness bracket, and you can count me among the many who would like to see Gonzaga take it en route to a national championship. Mark Few and the Bulldogs will make it to the Elite Eight, but that's as far as they go with Notre Dame taking them out at that point.
And that's it for the Fighting Irish as well. With apologies to the 'Zags, Irish and No. 3 Florida State, it's an Arizona party in the West to end my free college basketball picks and send three Wildcats, plus a second Pac-12 team, into the Final Four.